Sunday, February 13, 2011

What constitutes a classroom?

I’ve been wondering this a lot lately, and it’s a question driving my brainstorming efforts for my teacher research project in my Investigating Classroom Literacies grad course. I’ve found that I conceptualize a classroom much differently than a traditional brick-and-mortar space. I’ve actually coined a new moniker for it: learning locale.

The OED defines locale as “A place or locality; esp. a place considered with reference to some particular event or circumstances connected with it.” So, a learning locale is any place where learning (the event) occurs—learning being the development or application of useful knowledge. It can be a physical place, an online place, or a mental place (i.e., reflection or critical thinking). It can occur socially among people or individually. It’s no longer confined by traditional boundaries. Because of Web2.0 technologies, we can learn with and from people all over the world, at any time of day, on any day. And, in more ways than we can imagine, we can easily share what we learn, in turn helping to facilitate more learning locales. Regarding material, I believe all the world is a text. By this I mean learning can be facilitated by actively making sense of the countless texts we consume in the world: situations, events, experiences, conversations, multimodal texts, audio-visual texts, written texts, spoken texts, and just about anything else that we can “read,” gain meaning from, and therefore learn from.

In today’s world, opportunities to consume, create, connect, and collaborate are endless. This proves that learning locales can be anywhere; they’re no longer confined to the four walls that we’ve traditionally conceptualized as a classroom.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

An inspirational watch...

I came upon this video a few weeks ago and have been meaning to post it.  I find Taylor Mali's "What Teachers Make" an inspirational watch.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Top 11: for the week of 1/31-2/4

I'm going to start something new, a series of sorts. I want to start capturing, in short lists, memorable learning material or moments from the prior week in my English / Education courses. Since it's 2011 (and "Top 10" lists are so overused), I'm going to start a "Top 11" series. Each week, I will do my best to vary the material. This week, I've listed the best quotes or passages from course readings and course discussions. Enjoy!

Top 11 Quotes or Passages from the week 1/31/2011-2/4/2011:

1. Regarding popular teaching and learning myths...  "All children are above average. This is the 'myth of the 3rd grade': 'She's reading at the 3rd-grade level.' It's as if there's an ideal 3rd-grader on Mount Olympus. Every 4th-grade teacher is angry at every 3rd-grade teacher--most kids don't arrive 'on level' or 'ready.' The truth is 3rd-graders are various, and good teachers teach to that diversity."  (Ayers, Bill and Ryan Alexander-Tanner. To Teach: The Journey, In Comics. New York: Teachers College Press, 2010. 5. Print.)

2. "To name oneself as a teacher is to live with one foot in the muck of the world as we find it--with its conventional patterns and received wisdom--and the other foot striding toward a world that could be but isn't yet." (Ayers, Bill and Ryan Alexander-Tanner. To Teach: The Journey, In Comics. New York: Teachers College Press, 2010. 11. Print.)

3. In a chapter titled "Seeing the Student," Ayers enumerates a list of questions that teachers should consider before trying to label a student or, if the label has already been applied, as a way of seeing past the label to get to a better understanding of the whole student.  "Who in the world am I, or who am I in the world? What in the world are my choices and my chances? What hopes do the kids bring? What is the language of their dreams? What experiences have they had and where do they want to go? What interests or concerns them? How have they been hurt and what are they frightened of? What larger universe awaits them?" (Ayers, Bill and Ryan Alexander-Tanner. To Teach: The Journey, In Comics. New York: Teachers College Press, 2010. 25. Print.)

4. In my methods course, we discussed the idea that we all have preconceptions about how things are in the world and we use these preconceptions as a foundation on which to learn more.  When students come into a classroom, they may have preconceptions about the day's topic. Eliciting students preconceptions and addressing them is important in overcoming any barriers they may impose regarding students' learning.  One way to try to understand where students' preconceptions come from is to ask questions: not just for you as the teacher to better understand the student, but also for the student to explicitly understand where he/she is coming from and why he/she thinks that way.

5. It's important to realize that we are all dynamic, complex beings who learn and know differently. Peter Smagorinsky, in his book Teaching English by Design, writes about the various ways of knowing, which influence the approach we take in teaching a lesson: transmission; constructivism; final draft speech; exploratory talk; paradigmatic knowledge; narrative knowledge; gendered ways of knowing; authoritative methods of relating; connected methods of relating; Gardner's multiple intelligences. (Smagorinsky, Peter. Teaching English by Design. New Hampshire: Heinemann, 2008. 3-18. Print.)

6. In my methods class, my professor referenced the book Discipline with Dignity (Richard L. Curwin, Allen N. Mendler, 1999) in discussing the concept of a social contract in a classroom.  Broadly, the idea is that the teacher and students together design a social contract, a set of norms, rules, and associated consequences that governs the way teacher and students interact with each other in class.  From what I heard, it sounds like this concept can be extremely effective in facilitating a safe learning community where students can take risks and really push their learning to new levels.

7. Also in my methods class, my professor enumerated the 3 C's of motivation: curiosity, choice, community.

8. A great quote came up in our norming session for my Investigating Classroom Literacies class: "Be open to opening your mind." This was articulated by another class my professor taught during the previous week. I really love this quote--short and sweet and so incredibly necessary.

9. Regarding teacher inquiry/teacher research: "In becoming teachers who carefully and systematically document our practice, simply put, we do better. We are better prepared to understand the very particular qualities, needs, and challenges facing the students that populate our classrooms." (Goswami, Dixie, et al. On Teacher Inquiry: Approaches to Language and Literacy Research. New York: Teachers College Press, 2009. 4. Print.)

10. At our NCTE chapter meeting, I listened to a 2nd-year teacher speak about first-year surprises and things he wished he'd known earlier.  While there was a ton of great advice here, a few things really stick out to me. First, he spoke of how, for an intro activity at the beginning of the school year, he has his students write letters to him, telling him: how they learn best; things they enjoy about learning and school and their non-academic interests; things they wish they'd learned in previous English classes but hadn't yet; anything else he should know about helping to better facilitate their learning.  This is a really great idea for getting to know students and for immediately generating that respect and trust that is so crucial between teacher and students and vice versa.  Second, he explained how crucial it is to never, ever jump to conclusions about a kid's behavior.  There is always a reason for why a kid acts the way that he/she does; it is important that teachers don't assume and therefore add further to the pain or frustration that the kid may already feel.

11. In the online version of Education Week, on February 1, 2011, Daniel Tanner wrote "An Open Message to President Barack Obama."  The letter is generally about education reform.  A particular passage struck me: "In our large cities, school capacity is commonly calculated by the number of seats. But children and adolescents are not made to learn by sitting and listening for most of the day. Children like to engage in active investigation--in looking into things to find out how they work. They like to construct things; they seek to engage in socialization through language, play, and collaboration; they love to draw, paint, sculpt, and sing; they want to learn to play a musical instrument--and all of this requires some physical freedom from their seats."  I love how Tanner conceptualizes learning and teaching here... it's so important to remember that students are different.  They think differently.  They know differently.  They learn differently.  And we, as part of a larger educational system, need to acknowledge and respond positively to this diversity.